How to Handle a Cancelled or Postponed Meeting

By Beth Buehler

One of the unfortunate impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) is the cancellation of meetings as people were asked to social distance to prevent the rapidly spreading illness. One of the strangest things is the uncertainty about when life will be back to “normal” and what that normal will look like.

Thankfully, Colorado and a variety of states are reopening to meetings, events and tourism in phases that are practical and have safety in mind, but the reality is that some gatherings are still being delayed or placed online as a temporary measure. So here are several tips regarding how to handle a cancelled or postponed meeting.

Colorado’s breweries like Dry Dock in Aurora are a great place to gather after a meeting or bring a tasting to your venue! Photo by Stevie Crecelius.

Make sure your planning team is on the same page. Not only is this critical for developing the meeting agenda, content and individual components like venues, speakers and ancillary activities, it’s important for making decisions when discovering a meeting can’t happen due to pandemics, natural disasters and more. First and foremost, a decision has to be made to cancel or postpone, which can be impacted by things like contracts, getting a new date on the calendar that works, and simply the act of redoing everything. Can the meeting wait or can it be separated into several smaller gatherings perhaps by sales team type, departments of a company, instead of cancelling the meeting or event?

Break up your group into mini-meetings in the newly renovated meeting spaces at Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. Courtesy Hotel Colorado.

Communication with attendees is critical. Once a decision is made whether to cancel or postpone, it’s important to reach out to attendees as soon as possible so they know what to expect. In some cases, it might need to be a short communication at first that the meeting is not happening in the timeframe previously outlined and that plans are in the works to decide how to proceed. Make sure your team has discussed the messaging and what needs to be communicated. Do you need to survey attendees and any sponsors to see what they want? I like how Destination Colorado has done this for its annual Customer Appreciation Event in the fall and Front Range Trade Show in early December.

Immediately reach out to suppliers. We’re all in this together, whatever side of the equation you are on: planner or supplier. No one could have expected how the impact of COVID-19 is stretching out and how quickly it hit. Ideally, the meeting can be postponed to a future date to save all the legwork done and still accomplish contract terms. When talking to Destination Colorado members, I’ve been impressed with how properties, venues and other suppliers are being as flexible as possible. The important thing is to get rebooked as dates are filling up quickly due to several gatherings being pushed into the same timeframes.

Transport attendees to the top of the mountain on gondolas. Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company.

Once a decision is made, carry forth and stay positive. Whatever the verdict, how to handle a cancelled or postponed meeting sets the stage for future gatherings, whether in-person or online. In most cases, it’s a huge relief to have the decision made and know how to proceed. Either way, postponing or cancelling takes unraveling and reorganizing. You can stay positive and upbeat with either approach, and in these days in particular people want confidence and good leadership. For example, what information can still be delivered using different channels until the meeting can be held? Provide a glimpse of the destination where the meeting is going to be held to create extra excitement. Outline how the meeting will be structured differently to keep everyone involved healthy.

In Boulder, attendees can enjoy strolling Pearl Street during meeting breaks. Courtesy of Denise Chambers/Boulder CVB.

These four tips about how to handle a cancelled or postponed meeting are meant to get the wheels turning in regard to steps that need to be taken. We hope you find them helpful. Again, we’re all in this together!

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 15 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.